U.S. military officials said Saturday Iraq has been "faking" some bomb damage to civilian areas and then telling Western reporters there the destruction was caused by coalition forces.
The claim came on the one-month anniversary of the war and on a day when military officials announced the combat loss of two more U.S. aircraft.Rear Adm. Mike McConnell, director of intelligence for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters at the Pentagon's daily press briefing that the United States has evidence that some of the bomb damage in civilian areas was caused by Iraqis.
"Yes, they are faking some of it," McConnell said in response to a question. "We have chosen at this point not to parade that information in front of you because you get into a claim and counter-claim situation. There is some information that indicates that the Iraqis deliberately planned what appears to be collateral damage.
"We saw them (the Iraqis) earlier in the process inflict some damage on a specific building and even allow media access when we are absolutely certain that that damage was not inflicted by coalition forces," McConnell said.
A Pentagon official said the faked damage by the Iraqis involved "a mosque in Basra" and that the incident occurred "within the last week." The official said photographs may be made available in three days.
Officials said the faked damage did not involve the bunker destroyed by U.S. bombs last week.
At the daily U.S. press briefing in Riyadh, Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Richard Neal also said that because of the constant bombing of Iraq and Kuwait, the United States "certainly cannot" guarantee safe passage for Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz when he visits Moscow this weekend.
Neal gave no details of the downing of the pair of Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt tank killers other than to say they went down in combat and the two pilots are missing. A Pentagon official said the planes crashed overnight Friday.
The loss of the two relatively slow-flying A-10s, known as Warthogs, coupled with the non-combat-related crash at a Saudi airbase of an Air Force F-16C fighter returning from a mission, brought to 33 the total U.S. aircraft lost since the war began Jan. 17. Of the 33, 20 were combat-related.
Total allied aircraft losses since Jan. 17, including U.S. planes, rose to 44. Of the 11 planes lost by U.S. allies, nine were combat-related, officials said.
The pilot of the F-16, which was attached to the 363rd Tactical Fighter Wing at Shaw Air Force Base in Sumpter, S.C., was killed, officials said. The plane did not sustain any battle damage, and the cause of the accident was being investigated.
Saddam Hussein's conditional offer Friday to withdraw from Kuwait - an offer President Bush rejected as a "cruel hoax" - did nothing to slow the war effort Saturday, Neal said.
"We're continuing our campaign plan as we originally conceived it," he said.
Neal said allied forces had observed no changes on the part of Iraq's military in the Kuwait theater of operations as a result of Baghdad's conditional withdrawal offer.
Asked if the plane scheduled to carry Aziz to Moscow on a much-publicized diplomatic mission Sunday would get safe passage out of Iraq, Neal said the U.S. view is "all (Iraqi) aircraft are hostile."
"We control the airspace," Neal said. "We're at war. I don't know who the passengers are that are flying over the Iraqi theater of operations. But if they are flying over the Iraqi theater of operations, they are at great, extreme risk."
Asked if that meant the United States could not guarantee Aziz's safety en route to Moscow, the general said, "We certainly cannot."
On Cable News Network's "Newsmaker Saturday," Defense Secretary Dick Cheney rejected a possible cease-fire to give Saddam time to leave Kuwait.
"We don't believe there's any room for any pause, any cease-fire or anything other than complete, total, unconditional compliance with the U.N. resolutions," Cheney said. "The problem with cease-fire is that you give him time to repair some of the damage to redeploy his forces."
Iraq fired a Scud missile around 2 a.m. Saturday at Jubail in northeastern Saudi Arabia, the Central Command said. The missile broke up in midair and part of it fell harmlessly into the sea, a senior military source said. There were no reports of injuries or damage.